There are still a few wine-producing countries left on the map that command genuine novelty value. China may boast the world’s fifth-largest vineyard area and a thirsty domestic population that consumes nearly all of its wine, but in fine-wine circles, its presence in Europe is still headline news. True to form, when Britain’s oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd, announced last month that they were stocking four wines from Changyu, China’s largest and oldest winery, a slew of articles appeared detailing this vinous curiosity.
Actually, the rebirth of Chinese fine wine has been a few years in the making. In 2011, I had a first taste: the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon blend by He Lan Qing Xue. Made in Ningxia, a small, landlocked province in Central China, it won the best red Bordeaux varietal over £10 at the Decanter World Wine Awards. I thought it was a reasonable effort, but certainly not something I would stock my cellar with just yet. So when I heard that Ningxia’s latest export—Château Changyu Moser—was going to be released in London at £39, or €46, a bottle, my curiosity was piqued.
Armed with a map of China’s wine regions and an open mind, I trotted off to the tasting, which by coincidence landed on the vernal equinox—an appropriate time to challenge my taste buds and try something new.
China has been producing wine of one sort or another since the early days of the Tang Dynasty (around 625). But its modern incarnation dates back to the late 19th century, when Zhang Bishi, a government officer, established the Changyu winery on the Shandong Peninsula. So good were his wines that “The Wine Opus” notes that they received four gold medals at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Today, the Yantai Changyu Group boasts a collection of wineries dotted around China, complete with uncanny replicas of European châteaux.
Château Changyu Moser, an impressive looking property that wouldn’t look out of place on the banks of the Gironde, is one of its best. Their Moser XV, a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, is made in partnership with Austrian wine producer Lenz Moser.
“Against what we have tasted out of China before, it is clearly a big leap up,” says Mark Pardoe, Berry Bros. & Rudd Master of Wine. “It’s a novelty value in that it is something interesting coming out of China but it could be the first stirrings of quite an important plan. If they think they can do this well, they will do it and almost nothing can stop them.”
The wine in question had none of the off-notes or unusual tastes one often associates with new wine regions. It had a nose of ripe fruit and a recognizable structure. At the back of the throat, it left a rather stringent, bitter flavor—an almost green pepper character. This is probably due to the ripeness of the grapes, which I suspect they will iron out in a few vintages.
The three ice-wines the company produces under the Changyu Golden Valley label did more to justify their steep price tag. The aromatics were strong, the fruit was very correct, the aroma profile was as you would expect, but the Gold Diamond fell away a little on the palate.
To compete viticulturally with its international counterparts, China still has a long way to go. Indeed, I could list dozens of wines that I would prefer to drink at the same price. But given it’s the first glimpse of what this vast country can produce, it’s a pretty competent effort. Where they go from here will be fascinating to watch.
Source: Wall Street Journal